Wilderness Therapy for Young Adults

Utilizing expeditionary learning, EFSA engages students in adventure filmmaking, expeditionary learning, and simple Alaskan living as a means to discover and explore therapeutic and personal/spiritual growth.

We offer four options for services:

Men’s Treks (7-21 days)
Men’s Semester Programs* (Winter/Spring): 30 to 90+ days
Women’s Treks (7-21 days)
Custom Trek programs (Email for more info & to request your trek options)

Download our Brochure!


Men’s Treks (7-21 days)

EFSA leaderAll Men’s treks are led by our Founder/Clinical Director: DB Palmer, Ed.D

Dr. Palmer holds the Distinction of Master Counselor (NATWC*), is a certified Wilderness First Responder, Swiftwater Rescue Technician, Paddling Instructor, is a Certified Bear Guard, with 20 years experience in outdoor leadership.


Men’s Winter Trekscropped-pw18698.jpg

Jan/February, 2017:

Get the Ultimate “Alaskan Experience”. Options may include Winter Camping, Trapping, Winter Expedition Travel, & Adventure Film.

Lead Faculty: DB Palmer, Ed.D

Men’s Summer Treks

June, & August, 2017:

Experience the wild, rugged, and incredibly epic nature of Alaskan summer with our Packrafting & Adventure Film treks.

Lead Faculty: DB Palmer, Ed.D

Only 5 spots available per course.


Women’s Treks & Life Coaching with Alpine Greta (7-21 days)

Greta Thompson Pass VDZ 2015- 2Women of any age are encouraged to join us Greta as she leads multi-generational women’s treks & programs. Note: Minors must be accompanied by a guardian.

women’s treks

March & April, 2017:

Join Alpine Greta as she leads a winter classic set of options, including Backcountry Skiing, Winter Camping, Expedition Fitness, & Adventure Film.

Lead Faculty: Greta Palmer, M.A.

Only 5 spots available per course.


Young Men’s Semester Program

Our semester programs are only offered for winter/spring semesters, and students must have completed one of our trek programs in order to apply for our semester program. Students who are registered for a trek program can have their application for semester program held in a “contingent” status until they complete the trek. At the present time, we only offer this program to male students. Students in the semester program are actively joining our full-time lives. The semester program involves a significant investment of our time and resources, particularly as we live in a remote environment. We engage students in our daily living, in this amazing landscape, and as such… it is incredibly important that we determine whether or not the program would be a good fit, both for the student and for us.

Students are actively engaged in filmmaking, life coaching, outdoor leadership and fitness training, academics (optional), and expeditionary learning.

A program for Young Men

In our culture, males and females are given so much information, and most of it is AIARE 2contradictory. We live in confusing times, and we believe that while co-ed programs can be great, there is a huge need for young men and women to spend time with their peers, just as men, or just as women. While the options for female-only programs have grown exponentially, which is great; there are fewer and fewer options for young men.

We deal with a wide range of concerns on our semester and trek programs. No topic is “off limits”, and we maintain an open, supportive, and challenging relationship with our students. Sometimes you need a shoulder to lean on. Sometimes you just need time to work things out. Sometimes you need a (figurative) kick in the pants…

Key aspects of the Semester Program:

Outdoor Leadership, Recreation, & Adventure Film are hallmarks of our programming. Our two decades in adventure leadership and wilderness therapy have afforded us amazing experiences. Our location in Alaska gives us unparalleled access to beauty and wilderness. As a film school, we are actively engaged in local and group-based film projects, and our environment allows us access to epic locations, events, and stories.

College Credit available via distance or classroom attendance (University of Alaska options include: Glennallen campus, Valdez Campus, & distance/online attendance). Students may also attend another institution, of their choosing. We also host educators, from time to time, to deliver courses, workshops, and intensives, both for credit and/or for continuing education. Note: Ask us about college enrollment options, both local and via distance.

College Support Services are available to all students. Dr. Palmer has worked for numerous universities and served as Director of Career, Counseling, & Disabilities Services and most recently as a full-time lead faculty/professor, and he is well known in higher education, both in Alaska and in the field of outdoor education/leadership. Greta Palmer has also served at numerous universities, and currently teaches for the University of Alaska at the Valdez campus. Our experience and first-hand knowledge allow us to assist and advocate for students across a wide spectrum of issues.

Active Community Living is paramount for our lives. We engage students through a diverse range of activities, particularly in the outdoor environment, which assist students in their personal fitness, personal growth, self-efficacy, and skill mastery. These activities range from nordic skiing, trips to the climbing wall & fitness center, snowshoeing, winter camping, dog-based treks, local events, and semi-structured evening conversations.

Therapeutic & Spiritual Growth is incredibly important to us. As practitioners in the counseling field, and as Christians, we believe that spiritual growth and discipline is an ultimate concern. We each have our own path to walk, our own past, and our own challenges; and we are honored to share in the journeys of our students. Part of our relationship, a critical one, is our regular dialogue and fellowship with one another. Fellowship may take the form of conversations, campfire chats, and/or musical worship opportunities. Additionally, students have access to church services, of their choosing, in either the greater Glennallen or Valdez area.

Fitness Training & Life Coaching allow our students to make life change. Greta is a certified personal trainer and life coach, with particular interest in nutrition and expedition fitness. She has a Master of Arts degree, focused on Marriage & Family Counseling, and over a decade of experience working in the mental health and community services field. Dr. Palmer is involved with every student’s program, and in addition to his decades of work in counseling psychology, community services, and outdoor leadership, he also wrote his doctoral dissertation on the topic of Wilderness Therapy. He is an expert in the field, and has long recognized that the secret to success is not the program, but relationship. Note: Formal counseling services are available as an additional service from Dr. Palmer.

Student-Driven Schedules & Free Time allow each student to make their own choices. With a supportive, yet challenging, environment; we give each student the space to take on as much or as little as they choose. We will guide, counsel, and encourage; but each of our students are adults, and they are free to participate in as many or few activities as they choose. Our standards for group living guide what is expected from all students, and these are collaboratively co-created by each group of students. Our students are reminded that they are now adults, and they are responsible for their own actions and decisions. Students have regular free time between activities of daily group chores, academics, outdoor activities, and we encourage students to use their time wisely.

Canine Therapy is accomplished by working with our small team of huskies, both on trail and around the property. We utilize dogs for trek support and companionship. Our team of huskies varies in number, year to year, and is intentionally kept to a minimum as we only utilize dogs for this program, and not as a racing kennel. Students may be as involved, or hands off, as they choose.

Family Life is always part of our semester programming. Students are joining our family, and we treat each student as a long-lost cousin or nephew. Your semester with us forges memories that we will both share. You will get to know us. You’ll spend time with our kids. Our kids will remember you as a part of their own story. This is a relationship that we take very seriously, and we ask that you do the same. We are growing together, after all. None of us is perfect. We all have areas of weakness, struggle, and blindness.

Student Living

Our semester programs are based at our Basecamp Alaska site in interior Alaska, halfway between Valdez and Glennallen. Simply put, we are situated in one of the most beautiful areas in the world. Students live in one of our insulated/heated yurts. While we pride ourselves in providing an authentic, rustic Alaskan experience, we do provide a number of amenities that allow for a less spartan existence. For example, the yurts have electrical power, a bathroom, water/shower, and are quite luxurious. Students cook their own meals, under Greta’s nutritional guidance.

Our Students

Typically, our students come to us from outside of Alaska, and often have had a hard time adjusting to young adulthood. These difficulties are varied, but often include: academic failure or poor performance, poor choices regarding alcohol/substance or a party lifestyle, questions about life and purpose, or just not quite being ready for college/career responsibilities. Our semester program is NOT suited for students dealing with serious mental health concerns, such as suicidal/homicidal ideation, psychosis, or major mental health disorders.

Our semester provides a time of challenge, support, reflection, and clarity. We have walked this path for two decades with teens and young adults, and we are honored to be part of your journey.


Becoming a leader

For two decades I’ve been leading youth, young adults, and adults through wild and remote places. For two decades, I’ve guided the personal journey of aspiring leaders and troubled youth. The single-most common challenge that I’ve seen is in the difficulty for people to see themselves with clarity, as the main “character” in their story, and to grasp the immensity of their personal responsibility for their lives… past, present, and future. Life rarely happens “to” us, unless we let it. We are the hero in our story, and not every story ends well. There are no guarantees for a happy, prosperous life. In order for change to occur, for the story to become reality, we must act.


Telling my story

Since my beginning days in the field of outdoor leadership and wilderness therapy, back in 2000, I’ve always been fascinated by the interplay of group psychology and wilderness leadership. The relationship between great leaders and their group members has far less to do with technical mastery, or rock star status, and far more to do with trust, belief in the potential of one another, and with communication. This, in fact, is what drew me to continue my education and training beyond my undergraduate degree in Recreation Management (Camp Ministry focus) to graduate and post-graduate studies, ultimately culminating with my doctoral degree in Counseling Psychology and directing the Counseling & Career Center for Alaska Pacific University.

As I began the next phase of my career as an Assistant Professor of Outdoor Leadership for the University of Alaska, I was tasked with redesigning a start-up program, and making it a niche, viable program. Seeing that most of the nationwide programs in the field of outdoor leadership had stagnated into copy/paste programs focused on very generalized skills and theoretical courses, I initiated a new adventure film program for the University and succeeded in getting regional accreditation and course articulation agreements with partnering universities and organizations. It was the first fully articulated adventure film concentration of its kind in any outdoor leadership or recreation program.


Adventure Film as Wilderness Therapy

What I saw as missing from outdoor leadership programs was a mechanism to “tell the story and share the journey”. It is this intentional storytelling that has been the consistent theme in my own journey, from outdoor leader to psychotherapist. Seeking to understand and to communicate an experience, whether your own or another’s, one must be able to make decisions based on the information available, and to seek the information that is needed to complete the story. This ability to create distance from the story and follow a cognitive structure is quite similar to the process of Cognitive Behavioral therapies. The ability to intuit deeper, often unspoken, narrative follows both psychodynamic and narrative therapeutic modalities, as well as numerous others. The choices that I make in both previsualization and post-production editing often follow my own existential striving to seek and express meaning and purpose, which is hallmark to Existential psychotherapy.


Taking the next step

In order to address the issues and challenges of our post-modern life, we will utilize wilderness expeditions as the stage and adventure film-making as the catalyst for therapeutic discovery and spiritual and personal growth. Having worked for and directed programs across the country and internationally, I know the challenges and limitations of running large programs. I will be part of every course and personally involved with every family. Courses for young adults (18+) will range from 7 to 90 days in duration.

"What I am passionate about is leading custom-tailored treks for individuals and small groups in some of the most epic locations available, in Alaska, the U.S., and abroad." -DB Palmer

How to get involved?

We start off each year with the Men’s course, in January or February (2017), for a winter-based adventure in the cold, dark interior of Alaska. This trip will be based at our basecamp, with wood-heated tents under the northern lights. Our focus will be both the reflective and active nature of our lives. There is no one offering a program of this nature, and the group will be capped at a maximum capacity of 5 (treks) or 10 (custom semester) young men. Programs are for those that are 18+ only.


Email me for more information and/or to be added to our communications for this, and future, programs. backcountryprof@gmail.com


Professional Disclosure

As a psychotherapist, I practice from an Existentialist-Christian perspective, (which means that I find ultimate purpose and meaning through my faith as a Christian) because that’s authentic for me. I make no requirement that my clients or groups are Christians. Like any cultural identity, my faith informs my work, my life, and my choices. My perspectives are informed by what I believe, and my counsel is informed by who I am. These cannot honestly be separated. I expect to disagree with my clients, and them with me. That’s part of a genuine relationship. I will not alter my beliefs to suit yours, and I don’t require that you alter your beliefs to suit mine. I remain convinced that despite the current contemporary culture of passive and implicit agreement that there should be ONE universal belief system which somehow decides which beliefs are judgmental or not, that vigorous and active dialogue is far better than mere acceptance, even (and especially) when two parties hold opposing views.

*National Association of Therapeutic Wilderness Camping